April 2004

Downrange 04/04: The “Assault Weapons” Ban

Seven states now ban certain types of semi-automatic guns, and there has been a federal ban on certain semi-automatic guns since 1994. Gun-control advocates ominously predict that eliminating the ban will result in a surge in police killings or, as Sen. Carl Levin claims, a rise in gun crimes.

Yet, despite the rhetoric, there is not a single academic study showing that these bans have reduced violent crime. Even research funded by the Justice Department under the Clinton administration concluded merely that the ban’s “impact on gun violence has been uncertain.”

The 1994 federal assault-weapons ban applied to semi-automatics that fire one bullet per pull of the trigger. Rebuilding semi-automatic weapons into machine guns is very difficult, as completely different firing mechanisms are used. Terms such as “military-style” or “assault weapon” describe cosmetic features of the gun, not the way the gun fires bullets.

Ironically, so-called “assault weapons,” such as the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle used in the District of Columbia area sniper killings, are not allowed in most states for hunting deer or larger animals because it is such a low-powered rifle. It will too frequently wound rather than kill the deer.

The ban arbitrarily outlaws some guns based upon brand name or cosmetic features—such as whether a rifle could have a bayonet mount, a pistol grip, a folding stock or a threaded muzzle. Not only could someone buy another not-banned semi-automatic gun that fired the same bullets, at the same rapidity and with the same damage, but even the banned guns can be sold under a different name or after, say, the bayonet mount was removed.

Proponents for keeping the semi-automatic “assault” gun ban argue that 10 of the 50 police officers shot to death annually over the four years from 1998 to 2001 were killed by these guns. But the Violence Policy Center, which put these numbers together, never examined whether the guns used to kill police possessed two or more of the features defining them as “assault weapons.”

The stakes over this issue represent much more than a legislative battle for gun-control advocates. Defeat would put their credibility at risk when it becomes obvious that their horror stories have not come true.

----------

Gun Show Regulations. Despite the term “gun show loophole,” there are no special exemptions for buying a gun at a gun show. Dealers must perform the same background checks as in a store. What gun-control groups refer to as a loophole is the non-regulated private transfers of guns. Eighteen states regulate the private transfers of handguns, with some having regulations going back more than several decades. However, just as with the semi-automatic gun bans, there is not a single academic study showing that these regulations reduce any type of violent crime.

The vast majority of criminals—40 percent—say they got their guns either from friends or family, and 39 percent from the street or other illegal sources.


-Todd Woodard